Never Disregard a Book Because the Author of It Is a Ridiculous Fellow

Lord Melbourne? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I once saw a proverb stating that one should not ignore a book simply because the author is a foolish person. Are you familiar with this proverb of encouragement for many writers?

Quote Investigator: Lord Melbourne (William Lamb) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1830s. He wrote notes about his life and his thoughts in a commonplace book he kept from about 1809 until 1832. Decades later an editor selected material from the commonplace book and included it within the 1889 book “Lord Melbourne’s Papers”. Here were two statements penned by the statesman. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Never disregard a book because the author of it is a ridiculous fellow.

Nothing injures poetry so much as over-consideration and cold and critical correction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1939 biographer David Cecil published “The Young Melbourne and the Story of His Marriage with Caroline Lamb”. A slightly different version of the adage was included; the phrase “ridiculous fellow” became “foolish fellow”: 2

It was the nature of his mind to argue from the particular to the general; and he kept a commonplace book, in which he noted down the generalizations that were always springing to his mind. Sometimes they were the fruit of his reading:

“Never disregard a book because the author of it is a foolish fellow.”

“A curious book might be made of the great actions performed by actors whose names had not been preserved, the glories of the anonymous.”

In 1975 Cecil used the expression again within his book “Library Looking Glass: A Personal Anthology”: 3

The second Viscount Melbourne was an amateur writer; his aphorisms lack the professional stylishness and concentration of Johnson’s or Hazlitt’s. But he was observant and humorous and independent-minded, and now and again he hits the nail sharply on the head.

Never disregard a book because the author of it is a foolish fellow.

Nobody ever did anything very foolish except from some strong principle.

In 1983 “The Oxford Book of Aphorisms” further circulated the variant statement: 4

Never disregard a book because the author of it is a foolish fellow.
LORD MELBOURNE

In conclusion, based on the 1889 edition of “Lord Melbourne’s Papers” QI believes that the adage with the phrase “ridiculous fellow” should be credited to Lord Melbourne. The expression with “foolish fellow” is semantically close, but QI has not yet found a solid citation for it. It is possible that David Cecil’s memory was slightly inaccurate when he wrote “The Young Melbourne”.

Notes:

  1. 1889, Lord Melbourne’s Papers (Viscount William Lamb Melbourne), Edited by Lloyd C. Sanders, Preface by The Earl Cowper, Chapter 3: Married Life and Literature: 1805-1828, Quote Page 86, Longmans, Green, and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1939, The Young Melbourne and the Story of His Marriage with Caroline Lamb by David Cecil, Chapter 9: The Finished Product, Quote Page 246, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1975, Library Looking Glass: A Personal Anthology by David Cecil, Chapter: Melbourne, Quote Page 158, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1983, The Oxford Book of Aphorisms, Chosen by John J, Gross, Topic: The Written Word, Quote Page 285, Oxford University Press, New York. (Verified with scans)